Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lack of sex education for people with intellectual disabilities leaves them vulnerable to abuse

From the Irish Times:

The lack of sex education and relationship training for people with intellectual disabilities leaves them isolated and vulnerable to abuse, World Down Syndrome Congress in Dublin has been told.

“People with intellectual disabilities are the most sexually victimised group in society,” said Dave Hingsburger from Canada, who specialises in the area of sexuality and the disabled.

He highlighted that 80 per cent of women with intellectual disabilities and 60 per cent of men are sexually molested or raped.

“If you thwart somebody’s natural desire for a relationship by not giving them education, then they are so easy to manipulate by people,” he told The Irish Times in between sessions at the four-day event which was held in Dublin last week.

People with intellectual disability were still mistakenly regarded by many as “perpetual children”, he said, therefore the idea of their sexuality was upsetting. One of the biggest struggles people with intellectual disabilities had was to be seen as adults.

“Sexuality is much more than having sexual intercourse; it is about being in relationships,” he pointed out. “Many, many people with intellectual disability live lives of loneliness, isolation and despair. We need to recognise that these people have the right to the same broad range of relationships as anybody else.”

He was shocked to hear that in the Republic, sexual intercourse between two people with intellectual disability is deemed to be a criminal offence, under legislation which was designed to protect them.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 was a “knee-jerk reaction to what was going on in society at the time with all the abuse”, explained Pat Clarke, a former chairman of Down Syndrome Ireland (DSI) and the new president of Down Syndrome International.

However, if somebody with an intellectual disability was abused or raped, he or she was generally still not thought to have the legal capacity to testify and, therefore, cases rarely got to court. There is a Bill going through designed to change this.

Although there were different interpretations of current legislation, the DSI had been advised that sexual relations between two people with Down syndrome was a criminal offence, added Mr Clarke.

“It is a civil liberties issue,” said Mr Hingsburger, who is director of clinical and educational services at Vita Community Living Services of Toronto. “I think you need to ask people to imagine any other minority that that could be done to. It is unthinkable.”

Withholding sex education, in a misguided attempt to protect people with intellectual disabilities, not only made them more likely to be victimised but also made them open to accusations of being the victimiser, he explained.

If they were not taught social skills, their behaviour could be inappropriate.